Chickenpox outbreak at North Carolina school where many parents opted out of vaccines is state’s worst in 20 years
At the Asheville Waldorf School in North Carolina, chickenpox cases are multiplying as many families declare religious exemption from vaccines.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, cases increased from 28 to 36 by last Friday. Currently, the school serves children from nursery classes through the sixth grade. This outbreak is North Carolina’s worst since the chickenpox vaccine was introduced and administered about 2 decades ago.
Asheville Waldorf School is part of a growing, anti-vaccine movement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children under 2 years of age who have not been vaccinated has “quadrupled” since 2001.
In a statement to Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR), the school said, “The school follows immunization requirements put in place by the state board of education, but also recognizes that a parent’s decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school.”
Buncombe County’s Medical Director, Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, tells BPR that Asheville Waldorf School holds the highest vaccine exemption rates in the entire county. While 73% of the the school’s kindergarten class declared a religious reason for vaccine exemption during the 2014-2015 year, the religious exemption rate decreased to 57% during the 2016-2017 year.
Mullendore continues, “I would say based on this outbreak and data we found, it appears the chicken pox vaccine was one of the more commonly exempted vaccines for this school.”
While North Carolina law requires for students to be immunized for a number of viruses, it allows for medical exemptions for “bona fide religious beliefs.” Parents must simply provide a written explanation of their religious beliefs to relieve their children of the requirement.
Despite the proven public health success of vaccines, the anti-vaccine movement still recycles debunked scientific myths. One popular and ableist anti-vaccine rally cry is the myth that vaccines cause autism. Although this has been thoroughly debunked, many are still unable to grasp the severity and potential catastrophes of not immunizing children.
The CDC warns that chickenpox is “even life-threatening, especially in babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.”